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International Faculty Adjusting to the US
Dr. Hiroshi Kanda teaching
Professor Hiroshi Kanda is learning new aspects of the American academy
Dr. Hiroshi Kanda, after 10 years of teaching and research at Osaka University, recently took a tenured faculty position in a biomedical engineering department in the United States. He is having difficulty adjusting to the American academic culture and its students. Dr. Kanda spoke with an experienced international faculty member to better understand US academic life.
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Dr. Kanda has been challenged by several aspects of life at his new university. His students are outspoken and informal, boldly questioning his views and expressing their thoughts on the class more directly than students he's accustomed to.
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He must adjust to the policies and expectations of a US university. For example, he must learn the promotion process of his university. Also, the students appear poorly prepared in math and science, and he was surprised that students generally do not specialize until the third and fourth year of college.
Dr. Kanda is building his research program and has learned that National Science Foundation (NSF) proposals require explaining the broader impact of the research. He is uncertain how to effectively write grant proposals that meet all the criteria of funding agencies such as the NSF.
Professor Kanda shared his challenges with another, more experienced international faculty member in another department. His colleague explained some of the unique but possibly challenging aspects of US higher education institutions:
  1. American students believe that they can engage their learning in whatever way works best for them, often expecting much interaction with the instructor and in an informal manner. Students expect their relationship with faculty to be more egalitarian than authoritative. Students who appear unprepared or unmotivated may actually have conflicting demands on their time, such as jobs, extracurricular activities, or families. Understanding these students will lead to more realistic expectations.
  2. Each department will have its own culture. Find a mentor to help you learn about yours.
  3. Higher education in the US can be different from other cultures. Engineering students may be required to take more liberal arts classes than in other countries. Tenure and promotion policies often rely extensively on research and publications, which can conflict with finding support for teaching. Navigating through the norms and policies of your university will be easier if you learn about the American academic system and build strong relationships within your own department.
  4. Since many funding agencies in the US have strict guidelines for the integration of research, teaching, and learning, researchers must often learn such guidelines in order to ensure continued research funding. Consider seeking help with grant writing.
Through increased understanding of the unique qualities of American higher education, Dr. Hiroshi Kanda felt more confident interacting with students and colleagues.
Understanding American students
American students often relate to faculty in ways that are unfamiliar to international educators or they appear less prepared for university level study. These links explain qualities of American students that are new to international educators and offer guidance in teaching a diverse audience.

Teaching American Students
Sheds light on the differences between collegiate students in the US and other countries by providing anecdotes from international TAs and instructors. Offers tips for using office hours and handling the classroom in accordance with US norms.

Addressing Studentsí Needs
Suggestions for creating a positive learning environment for a diverse student population, including topics such as getting to know your students and cultural differences for international instructors. Tailored to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.

Understanding Student Differences (PDF)
A Journal of Engineering Education article that explains students differences in learning style, motivations, and intellectual development and how instructors can effectively teach a diverse audience.

Teaching Best Practices: Student Audiences
Suggestions for getting to know your students and for teaching a diverse audience
Learning about academic culture
The American higher education system is distinctive with norms, policies, and values that may differ greatly from the academic culture of other nations. The following links explain American academic culture and help build relationships among colleagues.

Teaching Engineering: Professional Concerns (PDF)
Provides insight into the tenure and promotion process, the faculty environment (including survey data on faculty attitudes), and the process of faculty development.

Teaching in the United States
Gateway to a teaching handbook for a major American university, but offers practical information for any university educator. Chapters 1 and 2, Culture and Cross-Cultural Issues and Academic Culture, describe the American academic culture and explain differences in student attitudes, roles, values (e.g., grades or social life), and preparedness for college.

Networking 101: Some Basics for Colleague Contact
Argues that effort spent on networking is worthwhile to academic researchers and suggests ways to build relationships with those in a particular field, a university, or in a hiring position.
Writing grant proposals and broader impacts statements
Since the National Science Foundation is a major funding source for many engineering faculty members, the following links may assist those writing grant proposals and articulating the broader impacts of a research activity.

NSF Grant Proposal Guide: Proposal Processing and Review
Explains the two review criteria for NSF grant proposals: intellectual merit and broader impacts. Briefly describes the NSF emphasis on integrating research and education and integrating diversity into NSF programs, projects, and activities.

NSF Merit Review Broader Impacts Criterion: Representative Activities (PDF)
Since many NSF proposal writers have difficulty articulating the broader impacts of their proposed activity, this NSF document provides examples that illustrate activities likely to demonstrate broader impacts.

NSF Grant Proposal Guide
The current guide for understanding and preparing grant proposals for the NSF. Subsection II_C_2_b: Project Summary explains the one-page summary requiring the statements of intellectual merit and of broader impacts.

NSF Broader Impacts Showcase
Links to posters from a chemistry professional conference that highlight the broader impacts of NSF-funded research projects.

Tips for Proposal Writing (PDF)
Offers practical guidelines for writing NSF proposals and reasons why some proposals fail, reiterates required proposal contents and review criteria, and gives ten steps to revising a proposal. Updated by an NSF-funded biology professor.
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